Nursing supply stabilises after falls

After years of steady falls, Australia's nursing supply stabilised in 2001, according to a new report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

Nursing Labour Force 2002 shows that the nursing supply in Australia was 1,024 full-time equivalent (FTE) nurses per 100,000 population in 2001, the same as in 1999.

But supply was still down on the 1995 figure of 1,127 FTE nurses per 100,000 population.

Head of the AIHW's Labour Force and Rural Health Unit, Glenice Taylor, said, however, that preliminary nurse registration data for 2002 showed an upturn in nursing numbers could be on the way.

'Our preliminary 2002 registration figures include multiple registrations (nurses enrolled in more than one state/territory) which means we cannot yet be absolutely sure of an increase in overall numbers for 2002, but it is highly likely.'

The report shows a 1.2% increase in the total number of registered and enrolled nurses between 1999 and 2001, to just over 260,000 nurses. This figure includes nurses in the nursing labour force (91%) as well as nurses not working in nursing.

'There was little change in average hours worked by nurses per week (30.5 hours in 2001 compared with 30.2 hours in 1999)', Ms Taylor said.

'The increase in nursing numbers was enough to keep up with population growth though, so that the overall nursing supply remained stable.'

Nursing Labour Force 2002 shows changes in nursing numbers in the various clinical areas between 1997 and 2001. There was a 19.9% rise in the number of nurses working in medical areas (to 20,500 nurses in 2001). Increases were also recorded in critical care/intensive care (a 12.6% rise to 10,700 nurses), casualty/accident/emergency (a 22.7% rise to 7,500 nurses) and perioperative/operating theatre/recovery (a 9.2% rise to 15,256 nurses).

Areas to experience falls in numbers over the four years included geriatrics/gerontology (aged care) (an 8.7% fall to 32,200 nurses), and mixed medical and surgical (a 9.8% fall to 26,400 nurses).

Between 1995 and 2001 the numbers of employed nurses rose in all states and territories except Tasmania and Victoria, where raw numbers fell by 12.5% and 0.2% respectively. In terms of nursing supply, all states and territories experienced decreases except the Australian Capital Territory, where supply rose from 1,020 to 1,050 FTE per 100,000 population.

The nursing workforce continued to age, with an average age of 42.2 years in 2001 compared with 39.3 years in 1995. Nearly 42% of nurses were aged 45 years or more in 2001.

17 December 2003

Further information: Ms Glenice Taylor, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1153
For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, tel. 02 6244 1032.